GUI’s: Not Just for Windows Anymore

BMC replaces mainframe green screen with Explorer-style GUI

BMC Software Corp. believes there’s a market for a new GUI-based tool that exposes files and facilitates common management tasks in zSeries mainframe operating environments.

BMC yesterday unveiled System Explorer for z/OS, a new management tool that it says can be used to train entry-level IT staff to perform some common administrative tasks on zSeries mainframes running z/OS. System Explorer for z/OS is part of BMC’s System Advisor family of products.

“[System Explorer for z/OS] has taken some of the basic, rudimentary functions that you have to do on a day-to-day basis [on z/OS], such as managing files, editing data, and submitting your [jobs] and viewing output,” explains Will Bauman, vice president of the MainView product line with BMC. “Unless you’re trained in the mainframe world and the 3270 interface, very simple tasks like these can seem very daunting.”

BMC will market at least 20 additional tools similar to System Explorer for z/OS under its System Advisor brand (including Configuration Advisor); the tools address z/OS configuration and usability issues. BMC will also market three new tools that address application-oriented service management as part of its Application Advisor product.

The idea, Bauman says, is to “build a zSeries desktop for the future” by making the mainframe operating environment accessible to IT staff with experience on Windows or Linux/Unix systems.

In this respect, IT organizations can configure filters to restrict access to files or prohibit operations for entry-level staff, Bauman says. In the case of a programmer needing access to system files, he explains, an organization may configure System Explorer for z/OS to expose only system files that are prefixed by SYS1. From there, programmers can perform point-and-click options as if they were in a Windows Explorer environment: “When you do the right click [on these files], the properties that are associated with each of these objects appear in the pop-up. In case you’re editing a file, the nice part is that you can use any editor that you have installed on your PC.”

System Explorer for z/OS also features a message area that provides advice for novice or intermediate users. “You click on messages [in the bottom portion of the screen] and get an English-language explanation of what the information is trying to create for you,” Bauman notes. Organizations can customize advice to suit certain tasks, jobs, or applications.

Bauman and other BMC representatives stress that the System Advisor product line is not designed to replace the skills of mainframe systems programmers. Instead, he argues, the System Advisor products will help IT organizations deal with a problem he calls “mainframe brain drain” that occurs when mainframe systems programmers retire—and, increasingly, take their skills with them. “We want to make the platform attractive to host new applications, which is what IBM is trying to do. Some of the impediments that [IBM has] identified to doing that are the lack of skills to monitor and manage that environment.”

Larry Riggen, principal technology consultant with Cinergy Corp.—a Cincinnati, Ohio-based energy merchant—thinks that the System Explorer for z/OS concept makes a lot of sense. “To me the big benefit would be if you’re bringing somebody new into the MainView environment. Most people, college students, especially, are very familiar with point-and-click interfaces, but for obvious reasons, they’re not so familiar with a mainframe green screen.”

Cinergy hasn’t yet purchased System Explorer for z/OS, but Riggen, who does use BMC’s MainView suite, admits that he’s intrigued by the concept. He expects that System Explorer could be a good aide with which to safely get staff with limited or no mainframe experience up to speed on z/OS administration. “If you wanted to introduce somebody to JCL or to learn to use ISPF editor, they can basically edit a file on a workstation and save it on a mainframe. To me, it’s getting around the peculiarity of the mainframe and allowing a more common interface, a more common set of tools.”

Riggen isn’t concerned that a full suite of System Advisor tools will put him out of a job, either. “Back when I was going to school, you learned on a mainframe, and that’s really rare right now. We have co-op students in our group, they’re used to Windows and Unix type interfaces, which is a lot different. They would definitely almost always prefer to use a point-and-click interface rather than the old 3270.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.